By Jonathan Lawrence
CALGARY – We all know from television that islands can have mysterious properties, but can mountains as well? While it avoids veering into spiritual or fantastical territory, To the Mountain addresses the idea that perhaps the answers we seek are found where we least expect them. And to many of us technology-obsessed city folks, a hike through nature is probably where we would least expect it.
Produced on a humble budget of ten thousand dollars, director Eric Pauls has crafted a simple, yet profound film (his debut film, in fact) about four main characters that have all lost something important to them. By minor coincidence, each one finds themselves scaling a daunting and majestic mountain in the midst of the great Rocky Mountains (shot outside Exshaw in the Jura Creek area). While additional backstory would have helped flesh out the characters, they are all relatable by their situations and motivations: a young man and father who have lost their mother/wife, estranged from each other by the incident; a young woman in search of adventure and relief from a life less lived; and a newly retired professor who doesn’t know what to do with her recent freedom. The mountain, in turn, will give them what they each need: redemption, love, hope, adventure and heroics.
Given the dramatic nature of the film, the themes and situations seemed highly personal, so we asked Pauls to elaborate on that. He assured us that it was not based on any specific event in his life. “I had heard of people scattering the ashes of loved ones in the mountains,” he said. “I used that idea as a launching off point. However, watching the movie now, I realize I filled it with my own questions and convictions about having recently become a father, religion, aging, etc. It’s shockingly more personal than I ever intended.”
Halfway through the film, two of the characters remark on how quiet it is on the mountain, yet silence can be just as impactful to a film as audio. Speaking of which, sound is clearly an integral part of the film, given how Pauls and his band, Young Neighbours, (covered previously in BeatRoute) along with Noah Michael, composed the original soundtrack (released separately in August). The score is somber, soft and reflective, much like the characters and the mountain itself.
Unsurprisingly, yet thankfully, for a film about a mountainside and nature, the vistas are breathtaking. The Albertan countryside is beautifully captured, and becomes a character of its own.
Likewise, for a film that deals so much with letting go of the past, it’s one that I’ve been thinking about days after watching. Its characters are memorable, particularly the father, whose flirting with the retired professor is slightly cringe-worthy at first, but becomes more likeable throughout the film.
“Too obvious?” he asks her. His ability to turn his charm on and off, as we quickly learn, is how he copes with the loss of his wife.
To the Mountain will have its world premiere at the Oakville Film and Arts Festival in Oakville, ON, screening on the evening of June 24 alongside an amazing lineup of other international films—a huge testament to the power of this super low-budget film.
“Our budget meant the entire process of making this film was an uphill battle,” says writer/director Eric Pauls in a press release. “But today it feels like we can see the top, and I’m so proud of the film and everyone involved.”
To The Mountain premieres at the Oakville Film and Arts Festival on June 24.
Oakville Film and Arts Festival, To The Mountain